Introduction. From Palmyra to Print: The Book in South Asia

Fraser, Robert and Mary, Hammond (2008). Introduction. From Palmyra to Print: The Book in South Asia. In: Hammond, Mary and Fraser, Robert eds. Books Books Without Borders, Volume 2. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1–11.




Zadie Smith famously begins On Beauty, her novel of 2005, with a parody of — or at least an act of homage towards — an opening passage by E. M. Forster. To be exact, she echoes the first sentence of Howard’s End, referring not however to ‘Helen’s letters to her sister’ but to ‘Jerome’s e-mails to his father’. When introducing the long history of textual transmission in South Asia, one is tempted to pull off an equivalent trick. Predictably enough perhaps, the Forsterian preamble one longs to rework is that to A Passage to India. Here is what one might write:

Even apart from the city of Bhubaneswar — and that is forty miles inland — the state of Orissa presents much that is extraordinary. Edged and washed by the Bay of Bengal, it spreads out like some ample sari in sun, and the satin scintillates as it glides. Its streets are colourful and democratic. Its ancient temples are legion. At Puri the bee-hive-shaped towers of the Temple of Jagannath soar irresistibly into the sky whilst, fifty miles distant, the sculptured figures round the chariot-shaped Temple of the Sun at Koranak instruct as they cavort. The chariot wheels turn in their stasis. The stonework glows like honey. The guides are as informative as they are obliging.

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